Putting Urban Legends to Rest: What Chester Crocker Actually Said About Zimbabwe in 2001


The urban legend has former Assistant Secretary of State Chester Crocker saying to Congress at a hearing in June 2001,  “To separate the Zimbabwean people from Zanu-PF, we are going to have to make their economy scream, and I hope you, senators, have the stomach for what you have to do.”

The problem with this statement is, Crocker never said any such thing.  Following is the transcript of his testimony, and I defy readers to even intuit such a statement from it.

STATEMENTS OF CHESTER CROCKER, PROFESSOR, INSTITUTE FOR THE

STUDY OF DIPLOMACY, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY

Mr. Crocker. Thank you very much, Chairman Royce. Good to

be back here with you and your colleagues.

There has been a lot said about the trends and the facts on

the ground and there is a lot more that will be said by

colleagues on this panel and I do not want to spend a lot of

time on that, maybe focus a little bit more on what we can do,

what realistically are the options that we face. But just a few

observations, and I have given you a written statement, as

well, but just a few observations on the trend lines.

I have been a frequent visitor to Zimbabwe for the past 33

years and first went there at a time when it was also a

troubled country, in the midst of its liberation struggle

against minority rule, and I have been many times since.

Zimbabwe has often seemed a troubled place. Right after

independence there was a period of real troubles when many

people lost their lives. ZANU-PF was consolidating its monopoly

of political control.

So we have often seen Zimbabwe as a place, I think, where

there were the trappings of a democratic system but behind that

facade, if you will, there was the arbitrary use of official

power, as much official power as was needed to maintain a

monopoly of control, an uneven playing field for opposition and

resort to the tactics of intimidation.

But until the late 1990’s, and is my first point that I

would like to underscore, Mr. Chairman, these practices

remained within certain limits, maybe, in part, because only

recently has the opposition really found its feet. But in any

case, I think we are seeing quite a different situation today

in terms of the patterns of intimidation and abuse.

This is a dramatic situation now in Zimbabwe. We are 10

days away from one of the most important elections in modern

African history. As has been noted, the opposition will run in

every constituency. Thousands of observers will be there from a

wide range of local and foreign institutions.

There is excitement in the air in the country politically

because the constitutional referendum process demonstrated that

there really is competition in Zimbabwe. At least there is

competition when it is permitted.

The upcoming election is taking place against a widespread

campaign of government-sanctioned and sponsored violence whose

dimensions, I think, are generally pretty well known.

I would like to underscore something you said, Mr.

Chairman. One stands in awe at the courage and conviction of

unarmed oppositionists who are trying to compete in the

political process against a government which is playing by

other rules, other rules altogether, and these leaders in the

opposition have come together from a wide range of

backgrounds–the union movement, the educational profession,

the law, journalism, human rights advocacy, women’s groups, and

so forth, united in the belief that it is possible for Zimbabwe

to have peaceful, democratic change. Yet we know how much of an

uphill struggle this is.

This need not have happened in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe is a

place, Mr. Chairman, which has many things going for it in

terms of its resources, human and physical, in terms of the

strength of its industrial economy, its commercial agriculture,

which, until recently, has been a key source of regional

dynamism, making Zimbabwe a significant commodity and food

exporter and a key economic partner for all the countries of

Southern Africa.

I would also say that the leadership in Zimbabwe over the

years has not been all on the negative side. This is not a

country which has been for the last 20 years governed the way

it is being governed today.

Something has cracked. Something has gone wrong. Something

has gone badly off the tracks. This is a government which, at

times in the past, has been a constructive member of a regional

community. No longer. No longer the case.

So those legacies have gone out the window and Zimbabwe’s

policies of the past of pragmatism and reconciliation and

regional cooperation have been replaced by the political of

greedy adventurism in the region, most notably in the Congo,

and the politics of envy and racial scapegoating at home.

The real problem, no matter what the government officials

may say, the real problems are of their own making. This is not

about land ownership. It is not about colonial legacies. It is

not about the role of white farmers. It is about power. It is

really about power and that is the long and the short of it.

The primary challenge in terms of power is coming from black

Zimbabweans and I think we have heard that already this morning

from Morgan Tsvangirai and his colleagues. Everything else is

pure cover story–the playing of racial cards by an embattled

regime.

The sad part of all this to me, Mr. Chairman, is that this

is not the way Robert Mugabe started out his political career.

It is not the way he was for much of the past 20 years. He has

made contributions to his country’s history and that of the

region. While I have often differed with him, I have respected

him as a man of substance, intelligence, and deep conviction.

It is very sad to witness his fears of losing office crowd out

those other qualities.

So we have a drama. This could be an implosion with broad

regional implications far beyond those of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe

affects an entire region. It is at the hub of an entire region.

It is the Southern African region’s second most important

player in many ways, both political and economic.

So I think we have a lot at stake. This is about our

principles and our interests in Zimbabwe, but it is also about

Africa and Southern Africa quite specifically.

Just to give one example, the South African currency has

gone down 10 to 15 percent in the past few months because of

Zimbabwe. It is as simple as that and there is no other

explanation for the performance of the rand. I know there are

people who try to give other explanations but that is my

explanation.

What are we doing about it? My impression is that we are

wringing our hands. We are hoping South Africans will rescue

the situation. We are doing what we can to strengthen the

democratic process and I applaud everything that we are doing

as a government–executive branch, Congress, and NGO’s, which

are playing the lead role–to try somehow and make this as

democratic an election as it can be. But we are not doing a

whole lot beyond that to shape events, either by ourselves or

with our partners in Africa and Europe. I would suggest to you

that things have deteriorated badly. There are not any really

attractive options left before us.

But there are two broad avenues we could consider. Of

course, we do not know how the election will come out. It is

possible that the election will come out better than we think,

that the playing field will be more level than we think, and

that the opposition will come out better than the worst case

analyses have led us to believe. It is possible and we do not

want to prejudge that result.

It may also be that the opposition would be very pleased,

thank you very much, if they win 50 seats, even if they know in

their heart of hearts that they could have won 90 and therefore

they will say, “Look, is the glass half empty or is it half

full?” We have to be a little careful, I think, in deciding

ahead of time what is an acceptable outcome because it is for

the people of Zimbabwe even in these difficult circumstances to

address that.

But I am not going to bet on an outcome as good as the one

I have just been talking about. If I were a betting man, I

would not bet on that kind of outcome. I would bet this

election is going to go south and that it is going to be

substantially robbed. I am afraid that is the case. I wish it

were not the case.

So under one scenario, if that is indeed what happens, we

have the possibility, I suppose, assuming that violent

intimidation and police state tactics work, of deciding, “Do

we engage with this leadership, warts and all, or not?” And by

engage, I do not mean writing checks for them. I mean using

every element of our actual and potential leverage to try to

pull them back from the edge of this self-destructive orgy they

are now in, and that will not be easy to do and it will not be

pretty to watch, but I think we do have leverage we have not

really used that perhaps could get through in a post-election

environment. The goal would be to salvage a regionally

dangerous situation and move the country’s leadership back

within the pale of minimally acceptable conduct.

This will not be easy, given our political values and our

deep commitment to those values, to engage with a group like

this, but it might be better to do that than to resort to the

kind of petulant self-isolating ostracism which we are all too

frequently applying around the world today and isolating

ourselves.

The second option, and I speak very candidly, is to work

through all appropriate channels for a change in power in

Zimbabwe, recognizing that perhaps it is destined to become

Africa’s Romania and that Mugabe is destined to become Africa’s

Ceausescu. It was, though, even in Romania, the people of

Romania who made the change ultimately, not Americans.

So if we were to decide to try and work for change in power

in Zimbabwe, I would hope that we would have the wisdom to be

discrete, to be low-key and to avoid giving those in power

there the excuse that foreigners are out to get them.

We would treat Zimbabwe basically like a pariah under this

option. We would disengage from official government-to-

government relationships, programming of any sort, and wait for

the pressures to mount, helping them along as best we can.

Under either approach, we must recognize that we are only

one country and that we should be in careful, practical and

detailed consultations with the South Africans, with the

Zambians, with the Mozambiquans and above all, with the

British, who know this place and have more influence there than

we do.

So I hope that our current penchant around the world for

what I would call sloppy unilateralism can be brought under

some semblance of control and that we can actually figure out

how to work with key players in the region who also have

interests at stake in Zimbabwe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

For a look at the entire hearing, go to:

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?IPaddress=wais.access.gpo.gov&dbname=106_house_hearings&docid=f:66616.pdf.

This is how urban legends get started; someone fabricates a piece of news and it gets repeated enough that people start believing it.  Well, let’s hope this is one urban legend that can be put to rest.